They’re watching you Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
afael Lozano-Hemmer is a new-media artist whose projects often engage the public. The Mexican-born artist, who lives and works in Canada, teamed up with Polish artist Kryzsztof Wodiczko in 2015 to create Zoom Pavilion, an interactive video installation on view in SITE Santa Fe’s exhibition Future Shock .In Zoom Pavilion, which takes up an entire room, wall-mounted cameras capture the movements of everyone in the space, zooming in on their individual faces and projecting them in a display along three of the gallery’s four walls. But there’s more to Zoom Pavilion than simply appealing to the public’s vanity in the era of selfies and the novelty of seeing oneself projected larger than life. Sure, it can be fun to gaze upon your own visage or those of your friends — until you realize what’s actually happening. “All of these cameras are recording us,” said Irene Hofmann, SITE’S Phillips Director and Chief Curator, of the installation, which uses 12 computerized surveillance systems designed to follow individuals as they move through the space. “It has facial recognition software, and it’s really engaging for people because you come in and it’s like, ‘Oh. Look. It’s got you up there.’ But it’s about how easily we submit to surveillance.”
Lozano-Hemmer has incorporated characteristics unique to individual members of the public in his previous work. His installation Pulse Index was also exhibited at SITE in the 2012 exhibition Time Lapse. For Pulse Index, visitors to the show stuck a finger in a recording device that took a digital image of their fingerprints and projected them on a wall. Each print became smaller and smaller as more were added while people willingly allowed their identifying marks to become part of the real-time artwork. Never mind that, once captured, each person’s prints were added to a larger archive, with no one questioning how their individual information might be later used. “That’s a piece that people really participated in,” Hofmann said. “How easily people submit their very private, personal markers.”
But while Pulse Index required the participants’ consent, the same cannot exactly be said of Zoom
Pavilion, because visitors may not realize that they’ve become a part of the work until after they’ve entered the gallery space, and then it’s too late. But how concerned should you be? Maybe not very. LozanoHemmer and Wodickzo are artists, after all, and not a government agency using your image or tracking your whereabouts for some nefarious purpose à la George Orwell’s 1984. The irony of public engagement is that any time we willingly submit to surveillance, which happens more often than we may care to admit, we never know who’s really watching — or if, indeed, anyone is watching at all. But at some point, we accepted surveillance as the norm wherever there are cameras — at the grocery store or at the pharmacy, in museums, at work, and even out on the streets — without resistance.
Zoom Pavilion is a fluid video work that is everchanging, just as the visitors to the space change from moment to moment. It takes the idea of the public selfie to an extreme, magnifying faces as much as 35 times their actual size to the point where details become abstractions. It can be a dazzling, dizzying work that ebbs and flows with constant movement. Combined with facial-recognition capabilities, its potential use as a tool for stealth purposes is disturbing. Yet, again, how easily we allow our movements to be tracked, even when the space we’re moving in is a virtual one. Many can relate to visiting an online store and seeing the products they sell suddenly show up in ads on our Facebook page or other social media platforms, even though we never knowingly gave the site our personal information.
But this is the age of “opt out” rather than “opt in,” and one must request to have personal information removed from websites rather than the other way around. Lozano-Hemmer and Wodickzo’s work reminds us that we are now in a time when privacy has changed from a right into a privilege. And if you don’t think Zoom Pavilion is actually recording and not merely watching, a helpful time stamp accompanies the images, suggesting otherwise. It does more than simply recognize your face, however — it can pick you out in a crowd by tracking spatial relationships inside the exhibit space, recording the number of bodies and assigning you a number such as 1 of 20, for instance, or 35 of 167. In other words, it can potentially know not just who you are but where you are in time and space, at least within the limited environment where it’s displayed. When such technology is applied to the greater infrastructure of public surveillance, as it has been for quite some time, the implications for our right to privacy are staggering. Smile and say “cheese.”
— Michael Abatemarco
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer gives a free talk on Sunday, Oct. 8, at 11 a.m. in SITE Santa Fe’s Marlene Nathan Meyerson Auditorium; 505-989-1199.
THE IRONY OF PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IS THAT ANY TIME WE WILLINGLY SUBMIT TO SURVEILLANCE, WHICH HAPPENS MORE OFTEN THAN WE MAY CARE TO ADMIT, WE NEVER KNOW WHO’S REALLY WATCHING — OR IF, INDEED, ANYONE IS WATCHING AT ALL.
Zoom Pavilion (installation shot), 2015, projectors, infrared cameras, robotic zoom cameras, computers, IR illuminators; photo Gabriela Campos / The New Mexican